‘La Demande’ (6a, 320m) – Gorges du Verdon, France The ultimate grunt fest, the French Epinephrine. Mention the Verdon to any seasoned climber and you will likely witness a slight twinge followed by an elusive smile. In a sport where sending 9as is becoming less of a big deal, there exists a place boasting 8as [...]
‘La Demande’ (6a, 320m) – Gorges du Verdon, France
The ultimate grunt fest, the French Epinephrine.
Mention the Verdon to any seasoned climber and you will likely witness a slight twinge followed by an elusive smile. In a sport where sending 9as is becoming less of a big deal, there exists a place boasting 8as that have yet to go free – the Verdon. It’s not that they are sandbagged, they are just so incredibly sustained and demand a few degrees of confidence beyond your typical sport climbing venue that they remain unsent. The routes are long, sustained and most are attained only after abseiling into an overhanging limestone abyss into the gorge, where you better be damn sure you can climb out. The Verdon is often referred to as the European Yosemite and after a recent opportunity to compare and contrast the two; with a week in the Verdon followed by an abbreviated week in Yosemite, I am inclined to agree. Looking down from one of the sadomasochistic pitches of the Rostrum, a week after having cried pathetically on a climb well below my pay grade in the Verdon, I appreciate the comparison. Besides the obvious differences, Yosemite is granite and the Verdon is limestone – they both offer a surplus of classic lines looming above a valley bisected by a river. The climbing is stiff and not for the faint of heart, you are either ALL IN or you better hope you can GET OUT.
My trip to the Verdon mirrored what I imagine a fraternity hazing to be like. Our first day, we abseiled into the Luna Bong area. The first person clipping the draws to make it to the next anchor the second then got to down-clean on abseil. The morning turned into a ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong’ morning and after a suitable amount of stuck ropes, jugging stuck ropes, and rain we pawed our way up the rap route, the area’s namesake, Luna Bong.
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Suitably thwacked, bad weather rumors gave us an excuse to take a rest day and scout the approach for the über classic La Demande, no rappels necessary! Through the tunnels, cajones recollected, we started up La Demande. It was from this moment, that I fell in love with the Verdon. She became an illustrious mistress of mine, packing punch after punch of alluring surprises on delicate face climbing, burly cracks, overhung chimneys, and secretive traverses. Then of course there is the occasionally heady bolting and tricky gear placements.
Dehydrated and exhausted, we crawled off of La Demand. There were no more rest days to be had. I had two more days remaining in the Verdon and I was determined to spend them with my mistress. Lucky for you, I kiss and tell. It is difficult to select a favorite climb in the Verdon, so I have opted to highlight the über classic line, La Demande, with a pitch-by-pitch description including pictures, though we also met with Les Fils de l’Haltère et du Pan (6c), Trache Fatale (6c) and Luna Bong (6c).
La Demande (6a, 320m)
- Pitch 1: (5c) Up the broken buttress. For those not used to large limestone routes, this pitch will seem a bit vegetated, especially at first. There is a reassuring bolt or two along the way. Belay at bolts.
- Pitches 2-7: (5c-6a) It is going to be pretty hard to get off route for a while. Launch up the crack trending left for several pitches before trending briefly right before the cracks transform into the chimneys. The crack varies from fingers to fists. There are occasional bolts, but a set of cams is necessary. All belays were well bolted and most pitch combinations did not seem possible to link with our 60m rope. Beware, the pitches are all quite physical and maybe not the gimmes you would expect from limestone at the grade.
- Pitch 8: You have now worked yourself to a belay below a small roof inside a giant chimney on the wall about 20 feet wide and maybe 10 feet deep. There are pins in a loose pillar directly above you but a bolt out right on the other side of chimney. Pick the bolt out right and execute a delicate traverse to the crack on the opposing side. Climb up the crack through a small roof clipping a bolt or two along the way supplemented with a few reassuring gear placements. As the crack thins, traverse left towards the obvious bolt in the middle of the face, and arrive at the next set of anchors, 20m directly above where you started. (The initial traverse right was illuminated with a couple faint chalk arrows when we were there.)
- Pitch 9-11: Grunt. Thrutch. Squeeze. Hope. Most of all, remember this is fun. Up the chimneys you must go. As you squeal for happiness clipping those sometimes seemingly all too infrequent bolts, remember, those were not there until a few years ago.
- Pitch 12: Exit the chimney and execute some oak leaf covered face climbing to sunshine and anchors at the top of the ridge.
Quick Reference Guide
Location: Gorges du Verdon, France
Best Time to Climb:
Late June to early September, depends on weather. August is the most consistent time. Thunderstorms and afternoon rain are common, plan accordingly.
- 50 -60m rope (twins or doubles)
- set of nuts 1-10
- set of cams (0.5-3)
- set of aliens (blue to grey)
- 12 alpine quick draws
- approach shoes
- comfy rock climbing shoes
Note – The route can be done with a single 50m rope. As all belays are fixed, descent/retreat would be possible at any point with two 50m lines, though retreat looks to be an adventure of its own due to the traversing nature of the route and rock eating cracks and chimneys composing the route.
Park at Couloir Sampson and travel through the old hydroelectric project tunnels (usually wet, bring a head lamp if you wish to destroy some good, disorienting fun). A few hundred yards after the fixed cables across some slippery slabs depart the hiking trail as it heads gently back down towards the river for a faint climbers trail on the right. Head up this until it meets the base of the cliff at a broken buttress, the only non-overhanging feature in a sea of giant overhangs.
The parking lot, not the one you started at, is a few hundred meters up the ridge from where you top out. This is great so long as you pre-coordinate with friends either getting down to couloir Sampson in the morning, or arrange to have friends waiting to take you back to your car at the end of the day. We recommend making friends at the local Brasserrie in La Palud town center after grabbing a pizza across the way. Alternatively, bring your cell and call ‘Taxi Verdon’ at +33 06-68-18-13-13. If all else fails or if feeling really ambitious, trudge the 10 kilometers or so back to your car.
La Palud sur Verdon is the base camp for climbers, offering numerous campgrounds and gîtes (similar to hostels).
- Camping Municipal, route de Castellane, +33 04-92-77-38-13.
- Bourbon, route de Moustiers Sainte Marie, +33 04-92-77-38-17.
Gîtes & Refuges:
- Le Chalet Le Refuge, les bondils (8 kms), +33 04-92-83-68-45.
- Le Wapiti, le village, +33 04-92-77-30-02.
- L’arc En Ciel, place de l’église, +33 04-92-77-32-28
- L’étable, route des Crêtes, +33 04-92-77-30-63.
- Gite Rural Du Serre, les Michels, +33 04-92-83-61-90